Principal at Barclay, Part One: “Barclay is Everybody’s Business”

  • Gertrude S. Williams
  • Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Oral History book series (PSOH)


One of the hallmarks of Gertrude Williams’s administration as principal at Barclay School was the expansive and intricate web of personal relationships that she cultivated with students, staff, students’ families, the school’s immediate neighbors, and friends of the school from far and wide. The school organizations that she describes in this chapter (the Parent-Teacher Organization [PTO], the Steering Committee, etc.) seldom had large active memberships. Most of the battles with the school bureaucracy that she recounts were waged with the support of a small core of activists. But at critical moments, or—as she put it—when they “needed to make thunder and lightening”—she could count on the close ties that she had with most families and staff and the respect with which she was regarded in the larger community to generate enough signatures on a petition or enough bodies at a meeting to win the day. How she acquired and made use of the loyalties and affections that bolstered her principalship for 25 years is a complex story. It begins with the history of Barclay before she arrived.


School System School Board Central Office City School Sixth Grade Student 
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  1. 4.
    For a historical description of the area known officially as Hampden-Woodberry, see Bill Harvey, “Hampden-Woodberry: Baltimore’s Mill Villages,” in The Baltimore Book. New Views of Local History ed. Elizabeth Fee, Linda Shopes, and Linda Zeidman (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991) chapter 3. Harvey notes that this part of the city, whose origins centered around employment in textile mills, “did not share a thoroughfare, shopping district, or school with any other neighborhood for most of its history.” Consequently, the residents, “native-born, rural white Americans,” assumed that “the community belonged to them; it was their own.” Harvey, The Baltimore Book, 44, 46. Beginning in the 1990’s Hampden came under the influence of entrepreneurs who opened trendy shops and restaurants along the community’s main avenue, working a remarkable transformation of the area in which the old standoffish culture now coexists with a funky new diversity. See <>.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Studies of the social turmoil of this period include Charles DeBenedetti, An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990);Google Scholar
  3. Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1973);Google Scholar
  4. Kim McQuaid, The Anxious Years: America in the Vietnam-Watergate Era (New York: Basic Books, 1992);Google Scholar
  5. and James Miller, “Democracy is in the Streets”: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    David Rogers, An Inventory of Educational Improvement Efforts in the New York City Public Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 1977), 256–260.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    See Diane Ravitch, The Schools We Deserve (New York: Basic Books, 1985) 27Google Scholar
  8. and Mike Rose, Possible Lives (New York: Penguin Books, 1996) 4, 24 for discussion of the national penchant for bemoaning the shortcomings of public education. For a brief overview of national reports on education since the 1930s,Google Scholar
  9. see Theodore R. Sizer, “A Review and Comment on the National Reports” (Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1983).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gertrude S. Williams and Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gertrude S. Williams
  • Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson

There are no affiliations available

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